A review of Even Dogs in the Wild (John Rebus #20), by Ian Rankin
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
What can a writer do when the star of his long-running series ages into retirement? Henning Mankell took a cue from nature to solve that problem: Kurt Wallender fell prey to Alzheimer’s disease and proceeded to die a quiet death after twelve books, as did the series of detective novels featuring him.
How to replace a hero?
By contrast, consider Ian Rankin’s Detective Inspector John Rebus. No sooner has Rebus been forced into retirement than he manages to worm his way back into the Scottish national police in a “consultative” role. And no wonder. Rebus’ old nemesis, Malcolm Fox, formerly of “the Complaints” — what we in the U.S. know as Internal Affairs — is emerging as Rebus’ unlikely successor on the force. In fact, Fox has already been featured in two previous novels along with Rebus as well as in solo performances in two others.
The problem with this strategy is that the successor needs to be worthy. Malcolm Fox doesn’t measure up — and herein lies the fault in Even Dogs in the Wild, the twentieth novel in Rankin’s Rebus series and the fifth spotlighting Fox. Sadly, Fox is a far less engaging character. What saves this novel are Rankin’s complex plotting and the lesser characters who populate the Rebus novels: Detective Inspector (formerly Detective Sergeant) Siobhan Clarke and everybody’s favorite gangster boss, Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty.
Edinburgh in a starring role
In some ways dominating them all, a character in its own right, is the city of Edinburgh in all its gray, overcast glory. Any one of the city’s half-million residents will recognize the streets, parks, and landmarks that lie in the background in all the Rebus novels. I know this because whenever I mention Ian Rankin or John Rebus to someone who lives there, the immediate response is a broad smile. A traveler planning a trip to Scotland might do well to read Rankin’s work to gain a fuller appreciation of the place.
A complex plot that fascinates to the end
In an earlier era of crime fiction, writers tended to content themselves with formulaic plots, offering up a long list of “suspects” in a murder case that the hero-detective managed to solve after many false starts. Rankin, and other contemporary mystery writers that aspire to attain the heights of the genre, never settle for such simplicity. In Even Dogs in the Wild, for example, Rebus, Fox, and Clarke all pursue separate lines of investigation. There is not one mystery but two — or more; the number becomes clear only well into the book. Suspense reigns, and the pace of action steadily picks up to a crescendo at the end.
About the author
In addition to twenty novels starring John Rebus and two featuring Malcolm Fox, Ian Rankin has written nine standalone novels and numerous other works as well as scores of short stories, more than two dozen of them featuring Rebus. He has probably won as many literary awards as anyone else on the planet. As Wikipedia reveals, “Before becoming a full-time novelist he worked as a grape-picker, swineherd, taxman, alcohol researcher, hi-fi journalist, college secretary and punk musician in a band called the Dancing Pigs.”